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You Should Interview A Travel Agent As If You Were Hiring An Employee

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Let’s make it clear from the beginning; I believe EVERYONE who books a cruise should use a professional Cruise Travel Agent. Whether you are a first time cruiser, or a veteran cruiser (like me, who thinks you know all you need to know), your interests are going to be best served by doing so.

With the growth of both travel agency’s and cruise line’s presence on the Internet you might think booking a cruise is easy. Booking is easy, but a cruise is definitely not something you should book on your own. It’s not at all like booking your own flights or hotel rooms online, which admittedly is pretty simple, and I do recommend.

On cruise message boards, and in many articles you might read on the topic, you’ll often see the mantra… “Make sure you get a GOOD travel agent”. The obvious question raised in response is… “How do I find one?”.

I’ll be the first to admit that finding the elusive GREAT travel agent can be difficult, and you may pass through a mine field of not so great, to totally awful agents who sell cruises. In my view, a large part of the responsibility for that has to do with the fact that outside of the laws of the land (which require law suits), there is no body that has any enforceable control over the “travel agency industry”. The industry organizations like CLIA or IATA which you often hear about and might think have some control, are simply industry clubs who’s purpose is to promote the industry. They do offer training services to travel agents, offering accreditation… and I do recommend as a very basic minimum, using a travel agent that has a Master Cruise Councillor accreditation. However doing so ensures they at least know something about cruising, but there’s still no regulatory body to go to if you have a problem with them.

The Internet is chock full of cruise message boards, where you can often come across people’s stories about bad to horrific business experiences with travel agents. And it is equally filled with people’s rave reviews, with people raving how “their agents” always get the best prices, and the best free upgrades, and sends generous gifts, while supplying the best service. While there are no doubt many who are posting this information sincerely hoping their experiences will be of benefit to others— there’s also those who post with an agenda. The anonymity of the cruise message boards, makes the opinions posted somewhat suspect. I believe you still have to do some work to verify the opinions as best as you can, before handing your credit card information to book a cruise. Those faced with the task may find it daunting, and time consuming, so therefore make the decision to just book with just anyone, or book directly with the cruise lines. I think that’s a BIG mistake. You are simply gambling with your valuable vacation time; not to mention the money!!

My advice requires you to invest some of your time. You should interview prospective travel agents, just as you would if you were an employer looking to hire a staff person. This doesn’t require sitting down face to face with every interviewee. A combination of Email exchanges and telephone interviews can certainly be just as effective (most travel agents have toll free phone numbers).

You want to find a travel agent who knows their business, knows how to communicate their knowledge, and is willing to spend their time answering all of your questions. You also want to find someone you like; someone who you believe you’ll get along with. Because once you find that GREAT travel agent you will no doubt have a very long term relationship. You’ll value them as a friend; maybe even as member of the family; but most importantly you’ll have a great employee.

Your vacation is your business. Make sure you hire an employee who is dedicated to taking care of your business!

– A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising –






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Comment from AP
Time April 28, 2010 at 7:13 am

Could you please explain the benefits to using a travel agent? I’ve searched your archives using “travel agent”, but can’t find a post that explains the benefits. This would be helpful since I’ve recently booked a cruise (Celebrity) using their website. Thanks!

Comment from Kuki
Time April 28, 2010 at 8:25 am

When booking a Celebrity cruise travel agents are unable to discount from Celebrity’s stated rates.

However a good travel can offer an add-on amenity, such as onboard credit, or dinner in a specialty restaurant.

In the event you run into some problems during the cruise, a good travel agent should be your advocate approaching the cruise line to seek a satisfactory resolution.

They are able to climb the corporate ladder more quickly, to reach the right person able to assist with resolution, and because of the volume of their business simply carry more clout than individuals.

They also offer professional advice about the specifics of your ship and cruise.

Comment from Bob
Time April 29, 2010 at 9:39 am

Hi Kuki
While I agree somewhat with your opinion I am still in the “kissing frogs” portion of my TA search. It seems the followup blog entry might be “What makes a good Travel Agent” and/or “How to interview a TA”.
For our most recent booking I looked for a Princess “Commodore Certified TA” and found the experience disappointing. So we ended up using an online agency. We leave six weeks from today, hopefully we won’t be disappointed.

post script: I had to check the Princess website to come up with the term “Commodore Certified” and find the TA I contacted has been delisted.

Comment from Mike M
Time April 29, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Good points Bob: Often we say to “Find a good travel agent” but that really doesn’t help too much. Interviewing them and knowing what questions to ask is key in making the decision to use them or not.

I know that many people have accumulated a lot warts because they have kissed so many frogs. When you are forking out five figure sums of money for each kiss you can only stand so many warts. This is why they end up booking through the cruise line. The cruise line always answers the phone, always answers their questions (often incorrectly) and they don’t have to go through a middleman to make a change to their reservation. They feel more in control of their vacation.

The frogs of the industry are ruining it for the truly good agents and it seems that over time there are more frogs than Princes or Princesses’.

Take care,

Comment from Ron
Time April 29, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I have, over the course of almost 20 years cruising, booked with perhaps a dozen travel agents as well as directly with the cruise lines. First, it’s important to look at your relationship as a business relationship. You may be able to establish a trust or friendship with the agent but never let that interfere with your focus on booking a cruise as a business transaction. I’ve never asked (or received) discounts, commission rebates, on board credits or the like. My expectation is that the agent has earned the commission received from the cruise line and should keep all of it. Not surprisingly, I haven’t received any quotes which were below those quoted by the cruise lines themselves. Travel agents are paid to do certain things, mainly book travel, and the worst agents do just that and no more. That said, there are limits to how much hand holding any agent is going to do, which means you are going to have to do a lot of the homework yourself. When I book a cruise I research almost all of the details including the ship, itinerary and cabin. I already know the price and everything. All the agent has to do is call it in, which seems like pretty easy money, but it isn’t. What I want from the agent is to be there when (or if) something goes wrong. To have my back, so to speak. I’m not looking for “expertise” (I’m not an expert but I know enough), hand holding, lowest price or any of that. I’m looking for the ability to run interference for me. Sometimes, but not always, they have phone numbers you don’t have and can do things you can’t.

So have in your mind a clear idea of what specific service or services you want the agent to provide. The best way to separate out the frogs and keep from all those warts is to research your cruise carefully and ask the agent questions based on that research which any agent should be able to answer. That’s the key–you should know the answers to the questions you ask the agent. Write down the questions if you have to. Be on the lookout for efforts to steer you to higher priced cabins, ships, or hotels. Remember, they are paid on commission. Have thought out carefully your expectations. A recent blog focused on demographics and passenger profiles — are you an empty nester or a family? Are you looking for a port intensive voyage of discovery or party-hardy relaxation? When you have those answers, you will be able to deflect an agent’s effort to steer you to a more expensive booking than your want, or need. I once heard an agent claim that most cruisers didn’t know what they wanted and it was up to him to tell the customer what they wanted. Another toad — stay away from them. Decide what you want and stick to it. Lastly, always ask about booking fees and cancellation fees–these are deal breakers for me.

Comment from Kuki
Time April 29, 2010 at 2:31 pm

One of the first questions I would ask a prospective travel agent is if they’ve been on a cruise, and if so how many, not including lunch tours that may last a couple of hours.

From that I would want to know if they consider themselves cruise specialists.

Then I’d want to know what type of accreditation they have… in other words how much have they studied and trained.

Next I would ask if their have cancellation policies/penalties differ from the cruise lines.

I’d want to know how accessible they are going to be if I chose to do business with them. ie.. do they work Mon-Fri, 9-5, or if a problem develops and I need to commuicate with them, how easy is it going to be.

If those basics were answered in a way satisfactory to me, I’d go on to make small talk about cruising, to get a feel of what they really do know, and if I find them personable.

I think you’ll also want to know how long they have been with the agency they are with.

Of course none of this is 100% reliable. Eventually you have to count on your good judgement.

It is a case of once you’ve found one, you’ll know what they look like 🙂

Comment from Hank
Time April 30, 2010 at 2:34 pm

We have followed Kuki’s comments for many years (going back to AOL days) an really respect his opinion. Like Kuki we have a lot of cruise experience (about 2 years on cruise ships as passengers) and have to disagree with his latest article. As a general observation we think TAs have lost much of their usefulless when booking cruises. We book about 70 days of cruises a year and now perfer to use large on-line TAs, most of which now let us book with the click of a mouse (no humans involved). Some of these agencies even give a better price for those that book on-line. For those that have little experience and have questions, they are more likely going to find better answers on-line on some of the larger cruise blogs then they will get from most TAs. We have even talked to a couple of MCCs who failed to impress us with their knowledge of different lines and ships. We recently booked back-to-back cruises (total of 48 days cruising) on two different cruise lines and were able to do it all online in less then 15 minutes. As to good agencies, we are now finding that the largest agencies seem to be the best when you have an issue…and attribute this to the fact that the big agencies have more clout.


Comment from Camilla
Time May 2, 2010 at 8:25 am

I fully agree with you, Kuki. It proved again with our latest booking (QM2 in 2011), that being very cautious on HOW the online-agents read your mails and reply to you, tells a lot about the service being provided during and after the booking procedure as well. Again we have chosen the e-TA from last year for this year’s cruise.
Just to mention: due to the fact, that our provider is unfortunatly “black listed” for a while, I had send my mails to some of the online-TAs from my business-address, but requested in BOLD letters: reply-only to private e-mail. And? No, I got the reply to my business-mail, and not always every question answered… A prove, that my request was not read properly…
The quite “expensive deal” on the 24-nights on QM2 got the TA with the best “goodies” at the end – I admit, and with their system I didn’t have the problem with my provider, so direct e-mail correspondence could “flow”, but anyhow – it’s the essential basic to respect and keep in mind, that if requested, not just to click the “reply” button …
We booked bothe QV-cruises with another online-agent, that didn’t pay attention to my request (even though we had very good experience before, that’s why I contacted them again for new business, but “our” personal support left the company….)… So, unfortunatley, they lost the game… you never know, if small things like that are not paid attenion to, which other maybe essential bigger issues could be left out of sight?

Comment from satellite radio uplink
Time May 3, 2010 at 3:25 am

Interesting article .
You have to knowledge about your travel agent.
i’ll keep this in mind.

Comment from Tom
Time June 14, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Interesting angle that the T.A. can help you if something goes wrong. However after being lied to about table mates on a very expensive QM2 cruise by a “long time and well trusted travel agent”, it was the last straw. I had wanted to just sit with our friends but she, only to make her life easier added strangers that she said we would like. (it was a group cruise).
Ended up our should have been table for 5 became a musical chair table of 8, as the “nice” family group of three snubbed us. Made our very expensive cruise much less fun. Ho rah for your time dining and directly booking with cruise line. This same agent had also messed up seating on an earlier larger group cruise. Also I have dealt with other agents that overcharged and others that did not know what they were doing.
Also I like to be able to call up cruise line if price goes down and get cruise re-fared. I will take my chances with booking directly. No bottle of wine or plate of strawberries is worth the risk.

Tom in Long Beach

Comment from Paul Motter
Time June 14, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Hey Tom…

I had a cruise ship Maitre D’ do that to me as well. And I was the group leader. We had a table for eight, and I had a set of diners. The next night we had a completely different set of diners and I just assumed they were part of my group.

Little did I know they were just people who wanted our table. They were rude to us night after nightm and there we thought we were entertainming people who had paid to cruise with our group.

I honestly did not find out until the last night whatr had gone wrong because I had never hosted a group before.

Comment from Alijah Curlee
Time March 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Very good post.Much many thanks.

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